Week 5: Finding a Place in the Arts

Olivia Dulai of the 2019 CAUSE Leadership Academy

I’ve always wanted to be an artist. And if I’m being completely honest, I am an artist; I’ve been one since I first picked up a pencil. From acrylic to oil to graphite to pastel to chalk, I’ve dabbled in every medium. Even beyond the page I’ve found myself falling in love with art. I danced competitively and found myself head over heels for acting and theatre when I got to high school. But still, calling myself an artist feels weird to me even after years and years of explaining to others my passion for what I do.

Olivia Dulai of the 2019 CAUSE Leadership Academy

It feels so strange and uncomfortable for me to label myself as an “artist” and to fully embrace all of the implications and stereotypes that come with that. I think that a lot of my insecurity around proudly telling people that I am an artist stems from my internal acceptance that I can never have a career in the arts. I’m not the most talented person out there, my work isn’t the most original, and I don’t have the temperament that is required of people who choose to pursue their passion for art. My childhood dreams of being a reclusive painter in Paris, the star of the American Ballet Theatre, or a Tony winning actress on Broadway have long been humbled by the reality of the harsh and unforgiving nature of the art world. And it certainly doesn’t help that society and culture strongly emphasizes the pervasive stereotype of the starving artist. I really thought I had given up my dream for good–until this past week.

2019 CAUSE Leadership Academy media representation panel with Snehal Desai, Dan Matthews, Emi Kamemoto, Julie Zhan, and Sean Miura

The media panel we had the opportunity to interact with during our Monday Civic Leadership Session reoriented my beliefs regarding a career in the arts. To see all of these strong, successful, and not to mention Asian American individuals, paving the way in this field reinvigorated me with a sense of hope that perhaps I can find a place for myself in the art world. Seeing people who look like me, grew up like me, and have the same cultural expectations as me excel in the field that they are passionate about was reaffirming. The panel also reminded me that there are other opportunities to work with art outside of being the artist yourself. It seems so obvious to me now that of course there are careers in the arts beyond practicing but seeing it right in front of me finally helped me make that connection. The diversity of paths on the panel demonstrated how big the field truly is. From Snehal Desai, the director of East West Players, to Emi Kamemoto, who works in human resources at the Creative Artists Agency, to Julie Zhan who is an art practitioner, all of these incredible people have found their niche within a vast field of opportunities. 

Equally as important as the diversity of careers present was the fact that all of these people were API. While Hollywood and other forms of media have gotten better at showing API people thriving in the arts, there is still a long way to go. And in the field of the visual arts, there seems to be even less representation and space for Asian artists to thrive. Even in my AP Art History course, we spent ages on the origins of Western art and only a handful of days touching on art beyond the West. The curriculum is such that students learn about Monet, Gaugin, and Degas for days while only mentioning Ai Wei Wei in passing. The panel challenged the lack of API representation in the arts and reminded me that there is a place for us in the field. Of course, the speakers gave us no illusions about the difficulty of breaking into the art world as an API, but their presence demonstrated that it is possible to make space in the field.